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Posts Tagged ‘Sam Shepard’

“Sometimes you know something’s coming…you feel it in the air. A voice in your head is telling you something is going to go terribly wrong…and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”
John Rayburn (Kyle Chandler) in Bloodline

Todd A. Kessler,  Glenn Kessler,  Daniel Zelman created the Netflix series Bloodline which was shot in the Florida Keys.

“We were looking for a place to set [Bloodline] that had kind of an iconic sensibility for the United States, if not the world. Many people if they’ve never been to the Keys have at least heard of the Keys or most people have at least heard of the Florida Keys. Something weird goes on down there. It’s kind of like New Orleans or Las Vegas or Los Angeles, you know, places that people know of.”
Todd A. Kessler
UPROXX interview with Daniel Fienberg 

In about 10 hours as I write this post the Florida Keys are projected to be hit with category 3 or 4 hurricane. There’s no good outcome of this storm. There’s nowhere for Hurricane Irma to go that won’t wreck havoc.  We can hope that most of the people living in and visiting the Keys have already evacuated as the eye of the hurricane will go directly over the string of islands on the southern tip of Florida.

From there, there’s the strong possibility Hurricane Irma will go up the west coast of Florida hitting Naples, Ft. Myers, Sarasota, Tampa/St. Pete, and Cedar Key. My father died in 1995 while living in St. Pete Beach and he always worried about “the big one” hitting that area because—like parts of Houston—there’s nowhere for the water to go except over land. (The last major hurricane to hit the area was The 1921 Tampa Bay hurricane )

I last visited Key West earlier this year, and was in Tampa/St. Pete just two weeks ago. These are areas I’ve been exploring off and on for 30 plus years and it’s a land mixed with beauty and fragileness. I hope the people and buildings weather the storm well.

P.S. Bloodline ended its three season run on earlier this year. And even though the show didn’t perhaps find a wide audience some called it Netflix’s finest show to date. And it did give viewers one of the final looks at the talents of Sam Shepard—and did a super job of showcasing the Florida Keys.

Related posts:
Sam Shepard (1943-2017)
Postcard #111 (Captain Tony’s)
‘Burbank by the Sea’—St. Petersburg, Florida
Postcard #107 (Downtown St. Pete)
Postcard #142 (Sarasota Seahorse)
Don’t Waste Your Life (2.0)  (Written after an Iowa tornado I was hired to cover.)

Scott W. Smith

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Sam Shepard (1943-2017)

“I’m self-taught. I learn everything by doing it. I wasn’t born knowing how to write a play. You do it and hopefully you keep evolving. One really great thing happened was that I discovered Chekhov’s short stories.”
Sam Shepard

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When I was in film school back in the early eighties I don’t think there was anyone cooler than Sam Shepard. He had toured with Bob Dylan in early 70s, become a well-known New York City playwright in late 70s, and in the 80s became a screenwriter and a movie star.

The above scene is from The Right Stuff (1983) for which he received an Oscar-nomination for his role as pilot Chuck Yeager. Others may know of Shepard for his roles in Black Hawk Down, Days of Heaven, Francis, or most recently in TV program Bloodline—or his long relationship with actress Jessica Lange.

Back in 2011 in a post called Sam Shepard’s Start I pulled an extended quote where he talked about his early roots:

“I got a job delivering papers in Pasadena, and pretty soon, by reading the ad sections, I found out about an opening with a traveling ensemble called the Bishop’s Company. I decided to give it a shot, thinking that this might be a way to really get out. At the audition they gave me a little Shakespeare thing to read—I was so scared I read the stage directions—and they hired me. I think they hired everyone.

“We traveled all over the country—New England, the South, the Midwest. I think the longest we stayed anywhere was two days. It was actually a great little fold-up theater. We were totally self-sufficient, we put up the lights, made the costumes, performed the play, and shut down. Anyway, one day we got to New York to do a production at a church in Brooklyn and I said, ‘I’m getting off the bus.’

“…I was staying on Avenue C and Tenth Street with a bunch of jazz musicians, one whom happened to be Charlie Mingus’s son. We knew each other from high school, and he got me a job as a busboy at the Village Gate. The headwaiter at the Gate was a guy named Ralph Cook. Ralph was just starting his theater at St. Mark’s in the Bowery, and he said he’d heard that I’d been writing some stuff, and he wanted to see it. So, I showed him a few plays I’d written, and he said, ‘Well, let’s do it.’ Things kind of took off from there. New York was like that in the sixties. You could write a one-act play and start doing it the next day. You could go to one of those theaters—Genesis, La Mama, Jusdon Poets—and find a way to get in done. Nothing like that exists today.”
Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Sam Shepard (and actor/screenwriter/director)
Playwrights at Work

I hope those of you starting out find that helpful and track down more of Shepard’s theater and film work. A good place to start would be his play Buried Child for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1979. Shepard also wrote the script for Paris, Texas — winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Paris, Texas is a heartbreaking character study of longing and lacerations of the heart.”
Hillary Weston 

When you blog daily you have to find ways to try to keep it fresh. So the journey that started with Holland, Michigan—The Screenplay, and continued on to  Vernon, Florida yesterday, now leads us to Paris, Texas. The Wim Wender’s directed film from a script by Sam Shepard with L.M. Kit Carson doing some re-writing came out in 1984. Like Tender Mercies that came out the prior year, it was a film that captivated me and moved me in a way that’s hard to explain.

If say 80% of Hollywood movies follow a somewhat similar narrative flow, we can be thankful for filmmakers who fill in some of the other 20% with words and images that defy our normal movie going experience.

“What makes Paris, Texas and all of Wim’s work so special is that it is filled with so much yearning and so much restlessness; people aching so badly to find what it is they’re looking for. They’re all so hungry for love and connection and something to make them feel alive.”
Hillary Weston
Cinematic Panic: Longing Endlessly With Wim Wenders

If you’re drawn to writing less traditional screenplays the one blessing you have is often times actors get tired of being in traditional Hollywood roles and enjoy opportunities that allow them to do something that flexes some of their acting muscles they sometimes don’t use. Harry Dean Stanton acted in more than 100 films before he made Paris, Texas and The Observer quoted him saying of the film , “After all these years, I finally got the part I wanted to play. If I never did another film after Paris, Texas I’d be happy.”

Paris, Texas won the Palme d’Or at 1984 Cannes Film Festival, and the film is now part of The Criterion Collection.

I found a link at the excellent Cinephilla and Beyond that includes an old article by L.M. Kit Carson subtitled Postcards from the Old Man on Paris, Texas that contains this nugget called The Wim Movie Making Method:

“When you make a movie you actually make two movies at the same time. 1) the movie you write and think you’re supposed to make; 2) the movie that comes up, you can’t write it ahead of time, it only comes up from the people gathered when you shoot. The second movie is the true movie, you watch for it and make it.”

Though it’s been a long time since I last saw Paris, Texas,  I do rememeber being impressed with the cinematography of Robby Müller and the music of Ry Cooter.

P.S. Yes, there really is a Paris, Texas  ( “Second Largest Paris in the World.”) and they even have a 70-foot Eiffel Tower replica—which a cowboy hat on top of it.

Scott W. Smith

 

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I’m up in the Twin Cities again for a shoot and happened to be driving through St. Paul yesterday when I heard the news that Al Franken was officially declared the winner of the Senate race that has been in limbo for eight months. It was a good day to be a talk radio host up here. Remember this is the state that once chose Jesse Ventura for Governor.

Because it’s tucked away in the upper midwest, Minnesota kind of flies under the radar for the rest of the country so they have to do some interesting things to get attention.  There’s a great mix of people up here and that’s helped  produced a variety of creative talent from Prince to Diablo Cody. 

A couple days ago I mentioned that Sam Shepard and Jessica Lange lived in the Minnesota -St. Paul area for a period of time while they were raising their kids. So I thought it would be fitting to find a quote from Shepard and I found this one from an interview he did in St. Paul back in 2004:

“I’m self-taught. I learn everything by doing it. I wasn’t born knowing how to write a play. You do it and hopefully you keep evolving. One really great thing happened was that I discovered Chekhov’s short stories. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t really start reading them ‘til about 5 or 6 years ago. I’d always kind of dismissed Chekhov and didn’t really know why. When I came upon the stories, and started really reading and studying them, I couldn’t believe it. I read every single one.”
                                                  Sam Shepard
                                                  Interview with Don Shewey
                                                  Rock-And-Roll Jesus with a Cowboy Mouth 

 

Scott W. Smith


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But, somewhere back there in the dust,
That same small town that’s in each of us.

                                    The End of the Innocence 
                                    Don Henely 

Got nothing against a big town
Still hayseed enough to say
Look who’s in the big town
But my bed is in a small town

                                     Small Town
                                     John Mellencamp

 

What would you do if you won an Academy Award? What if against all odds you won two? Would you load up the family and move to Beverly Hills? But what if you already lived there or in New York City? Where would you put the idea of moving to a small town in Minnesota a year after you won your second Oscar? 

That’s what actress Jessica Lange did back in 1995 after she won her second Academy Award. She, Sam Shepard and their four kids moved to Stillwater, Minnesota,  a small town that sits on the St. Croix River just outside the Twin Cities.  Why?

Jessica Lange told Architectural Digest a couple years ago, “I had this kind of romantic image of the children growing up not dissimilarly to the way I grew up in a small town where they could walk to school. Even more than that, I wanted to raise them close to their extended family.”

So they bought a house next to where her mother lived. So the town not only got a Hollywood actress, but in Sam Shepard they also got an Oscar nominated actor (The Right Stuff), a screenwriter,  and a Pulitzer Prize-winning Playwright (Buried Child).  It’s not so off the wall when you think about it. Lange was born 15 miles south of Duluth in Cloquet,  Shepard was born in Fort Sheridan, IL.

They lived in Stillwater for about a decade.  Then after Lange’s mother died and all but one of their kids had graduated from high school there was no reason to be in Stillwater anymore so they moved to New York. But for a while they lived the small town dream. (They still own a lake cabin near Cloquet.)

A few days ago I had a video shoot in Minneapolis and ended up driving through Stillwater one morning. In some ways it’s outgrown the hardware store on Main St. thing and in some ways has been changed by gift shops and the condos that have popped up. After Lange sold their Stillwater house she commented that the town wasn’t real anymore. But for most small towns in America it’s a matter of growing or dying. (That probably could be said of most things in life.) From my perspective, Stillwater looks like a pretty fine place to live. (But it is a long commute if you work on Broadway from time to time.)

There’s something mythical about small towns in America. A little idealism mix with romanticism. A place where life is somewhere in between It’s a Wonderful Life and  Live it to Beaver. Where little kids can wander down Main Street like Opie did in Mayberry and where teenagers can hangout like they do on Happy Days. And if you can’t move back to the 1950s or live in a black & white movie or TV show then living in a small town may be as close as you can get to the ideal.

Of course, the reality is that there are often economic struggles in smaller towns. Teenagers are bored and can’t wait to leave. And small towns are not immune from drugs and violence. But small towns are still a refuge. And there is a reason why many of those teenagers when they hit their 30s and have kids move back to those same boring towns to raise their families. And they bring their gifts, talents and new perspectives that make the town a better place for everyone.

If you were in Cedar Falls, Iowa this weekend it would have made you at least think, “I could live in a place like this.” With two days of weather more fitting for San Diego, you could have watched a parade down Main St., eaten kettle corn while you listened to the United States Marine Corp Band perform at the band shell, taken a long bike ride through a state park, watched lighting bugs in the early evening, and listened to the church bells Sunday morning and a sala band down by the river Sunday night.

As a matter of fact, Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard lived in this area for a while back in the 80s. They rented a house in the Prospect area of the neighboring city of Waterloo while filming the farm crisis movie Country that was shot here in Black Hawk County. (That would have been the time when I was living in L.A. and going to Shepard’s play True West that featured Randy and Dennis Quaid in a small theater in Hollywood.)

Lange has the talent and has built her career in a way that allows her to live anywhere she wants and to continue her acting career. And my hope is with the changing digital technology and the various incentives to shoot films outside L.A. that there will rise up a new generation of filmmakers and actors who can make good films and live good lives wherever they want to live.

Well, I have to go walk to work now…

 

Scott W. Smith


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It’s interesting to me that the screenwriter who wrote one of the most memorable lines in recent cinema didn’t start out wanting to be a writer.

Before Aaron Sorkin wrote the Jack Nickolson line “You can’t handle the truth” in A Few Good Men, and before his multiple Emmy’s for West Wing, he was an actor. After graduating from Syracuse University with a BFA in musical theater in 1983 he moved to New York City.  And he got work as an actor…not on Broadway, or even off-Broadway, but way, way far off from Broadway.

“When I was twenty-one or twenty-two, I traveled the South with a touring children’s theater company called The Traveling Playhouse. When I say the South, we weren’t playing in Atlanta, we were playing Jasper, Alabama. We’d do six or seven shows in elementary school gymnasiums at about ten o’clock in the morning, then pile into a station wagon, and a van carrying the costumes and sets. We did The Wizard of Oz, Rip Van Winkle, and Greensleeves. We were paid thirty dollars a performance.”
Aaron Sorkin
Zen and the Art of Screenwriting
Interview with William Froug
Page 31

Sorkin says he had no interest in writing until one day at a “Motel Six or something” somewhere in Georgia when, “I don’t know why, I all of a sudden felt like Sam Shepard. I felt like I ought to be writing something. That’s the first time that thought went into my head, and it just kept nagging at me and I just felt like a writer without ever having written anything.”

Magical things can happen on the road—even in a Motel Six.

Dream big, start small.

Scott W. Smith

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“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”
                                                         Gordon Gekko
                                                         Wall St. 

“Our entire economy is in danger.”
                                                         President George W. Bush
                                                         September 2008    

“When was the last time you cared about something except yourself, hot rod?”
                                                        
 Doc Hudson (voice of Paul Newman)
                                                          Cars       

                                                    

This is a look at two Hollywood icons. One fictitious, one real. One that’s alive and well and one that just died. 

But before we get to our heavyweight match-up let’s look at why I’ve put them in the ring together.

“It’s the economy, stupid” was a phrase made popular during Bill Clinton’s first presidential bid. It’s always about the economy. Well, usually. Understanding economics can help your screenwriting greatly.  

First let me clarify that if you’re looking for “The Economics of Screenwriting” (how much you can get paid for screenwriting)  then check out Craig Mazin’s article at The Artful Writer

Few things are as primal in our lives as the economy. Wall Street’s recent shake-up joins a long list of economic upheaval throughout history. Just so we’re on the same page, the word economy flows down from the Greek meaning “house-hold management.” I mean it to include how people, businesses, villages, towns, cities and countries manage resources such as money, materials and natural resources. 

That is a wide path indeed. It’s why college football coach Nick Saban is on the cover of the September 1, 2008 issue of Forbes magazine as they explain why he is worth $32 million dollars to the University of Alabama. Why is the economy center stage once again in the most recent presidential election? Because… it’s always the economy, stupid.

Looking back you’ll see economics at the core issue of not only Enron, Iraq, 911 and the great depression but world wars, famines, and even the Reformation. I’m not sure how much further we can look back than Adam and Eve, but that whole apple/fruit thing in the garden had huge economic (as well as theological) ramifications. (In fact, it’s been said that there is more written in the Bible about money than about salvation.)    

There is no question that economics plays a key role in films as well — in production as well as content. On some level it’s almost always about the economy. This first dawned on me when I saw Chekhov’s play “The Cherry Orchard” for the first time and I realized the thread of money in it. Then I read Ibsen’s play  “An Enemy of the People” and noticed the economic theme there. They I started noticing it everywhere in plays, novels and movies.

From the mayor’s perspective the real danger of Bruce the shark in Jaws is he threatens the whole economy of the island town. In The Perfect Storm, George Clooney takes the boat back out because money is tight. Dustin Hoffman auditions as a women in Tootsie because he can’t get work as a male actor. Once you see this you see it everywhere in movies. 

Here is a quick random list where money, need to pay bills, lack of a job, greed and/or some form of economics play a key part in the story:

Chinatown
Scarface
Titanic
Sunset Blvd.
Tootsie
On the Waterfront
Wall St.
Cinderella 
Cinderella Man
Ragging Bull
Rocky 
Jaws
Jerry Maguire
It’s a Wonderful Life
Field of Dreams
Big
Greed
Body Heat
Falling Down
The Godfather
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 
The Jerk
Gone with the Wind
The Verdict 
Gone with the Wind 
The Grapes of Wrath
Risky Business
Do the Right Thing
Hoop Dreams 
Rain Man
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
The Gold Rush
Home Alone
Babette’s Feast
The Incredibles
Castway
Ocean’s Eleven
The Perfect Storm
Pretty Women
Trading Places
Indecent Proposal 
The Firm
American Ganster 
Rollover 

And it’s not limited to dramatic films. It’s hard to watch Hoops Dreams, Ken Burns’ The West, or any Michael Moore documentary and not connect it to economics.

So if you’re struggling with a story or struggling what to write, open up that door that explores economics. You don’t have to write The Wealth of Nations, but at least explore some aspect of it.  Join Tennessee Williams, John Steinbeck, Eugene O’Neill and other great writers who tackled that monster.

One thing living in the Midwest the past five years has done is help me understand how the world works economically. Because on a small level you see when John Deere is selling tractors locally, nationally and globally it helps the housing market here as the standard of living increases. The Midwest was the only place to to see homes appreciate last quarter. (Other parts of the country saw a 2 to 36% drop.)  But that wasn’t always the case.

When the farming crisis hit in the mid-eighties and John Deere (Cedar Valley’s largest employer) laid off 10,000 of it’s 15,000 employees and people were walking away from their homes. A film that came out of that era was the 1984 Sam Shepard, Jessica Lange film Country filmed right here in Black Hawk County. (By the way John Deere the company celebrates today 90 years being in this area. If you’ve ever eaten food they’ve had some role in it along the way.)

Three years later Oliver Stone’s film Wall St. came out the same year Black Monday occurred as stock markets around the world crashed. It was the largest one-day percentage decline in stock market history since the great depression. (It only ranks #5 now.)  So here we are 20 years later still trying to figure it all out as two of the top ten largest stock market drops have been in the last two weeks. (Sept 29 update: Make that three of the top ten stock market drops have occurred in the last two weeks.)

(I’m sure Stone felt good when Wall St. first came out, kinda of like “I told you so.” But on the DVD commentary Michael Douglas said that he often told by stock brokers that they got into the business because of the Gekko character he played. Douglas said he doesn’t understand because he was the bad guy. But how many of those guys now in positions of leadership in the financial crisis had Gekko as their hero? To quote writer/professor Bill Romanowski one more time, “Movies reflect the culture they help produce.”

The news will tell us what happened, critics will tell us why it happened, and it’s up to writers to tell us what it means. For years now I have noticed in many different states that more often than not when I go into a convenience store I see someone buying beer, cigarettes and lottery tickets and I ask myself, “What does this say about about the direction we are heading?”

Screenwriting is a place where we can pose those questions –and the playwright Ibsen said it was enough to ask the question.  So get busy asking questions. And if the economy gets worse remember this Carlos Stevens quote:

”Throughout most of the Depression, Americans went assiduously, devotedly, almost compulsively, to the movies.”

On the opposite end of Hollywood from Gordon Gekko is Paul Newman. If there ever was an example of a talented actor/director and giving businessman/ social entrepreneur it was Ohio-born and raised Newman who passed away last night. Newman’s films Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke, Absence of Malice and The Verdict will always be favorites of mine.

“I had no natural gift to be anything–not an athlete, not an actor, not a writer, not a director, a painter of garden porches–not anything. So I’ve worked really hard, because nothing ever came easily to me.”
                                                                                            Paul Newman 

 

(Newman’s Midwest roots extend to performing in summer stock theaters in Wisconsin and Illinois. And an Iowa connection is his last Academy Award nomination was for his role in The Road to Perdition which was based on the graphic novel by Iowa writer Max Allen Collins. And don’t forget that the Newman’s Own label was inspired by Cedar Rapids artist Grant Woods’ American Gothic.

I find it interesting that the three largest legendary film actors coming up in the 50s were all from the Midwest; Marlon Brando (Nebraska), James Dean (Indiana) along with Newman.)

Gavin the lawyer Newman played in the David Mamet scripted The Verdict says words that are just as relevant today as when they we spoken a couple decades ago: “You know, so much of the time we’re lost. We say, ‘Please God, tell us what is right. Tell us what’s true. There is no justice. The rich win, the poor are powerless…’ We become tired of hearing people lie.”

The world is upside down when we pay executives millions in golden parachutes when they drive a company into the ground. And that’s after they lied about the about the companies financial record along with their hand picked spineless board of directors. And after they’ve cashed in their own inflated stocks while the stockholders and employees are shortchanged.

But how nice to see a company like Newman’s Own whose entire profits from salad dressing and all natural food products are donated to charities. The company motto is “Shameless Exploitation in Pursuit of the Common Good.” To date Newman and his company have generated more than $250 million to thousands of charities worldwide. 

“What could be better than to hold out your hand to people who are less fortunate than you are?
                                                                                                      Paul Newman

P.S. Robert Redford had hoped he and Newman would be able to make one last film together and had bought the rights to Des Moines, Iowa born and raised Bill Bryson’s book A Walk in the Woods

“I got the rights to the movie four years ago, and we couldn’t decide if we were too old to do it,” said Redford. “The picture was written and everything. It breaks my heart.”

 

Copyright 2008 Scott W. Smith

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